From top: Toaiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten; Anne Marie McNally
Last Wednesday morning (as every morning) before I’d even left the house, I checked the morning headlines on twitter. Upon doing so I came across a story that I surprisingly hadn’t heard on either of the 7:10 and 8:10am broadcasts of Morning Ireland‘s ‘It Says in the Papers’ on RTÉ Radio One.
That story was by Mark Paul & Simon Carswell in the Irish Times and informed me that the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, had (according to an affidavit filed by the ODCE to the High Court) taken a call from a PR executive acting on behalf of INM.
The executive in question works for Heneghan PR which is headed by Nigel Heneghan a long-term associate of Mr Leslie Buckley including in an adviser role.
One would have to assume (hope?) that when a Minister takes a call during which he imparts *anything* he does so clearly understanding exactly who he is speaking to. If we accept that is the case then it is clear the Minister was aware that he was basically speaking directly to Leslie Buckley, the Chairman of INM.
Why is that a problem you ask? OK, well ask yourself why is the Minister for Communications imparting sensitive information (personally or privately) to anybody associated with a media outlet, particularly one with such close ties to our home-grown media Svengali Denis O’Brien?
The ODCE’s affidavit reportedly shows that Mr O’Brien got an email from Mr Buckley advising him of the Minister’s information within hours of the PR exec’s conversation with the Minister.
A Communications Minister, Denis O’Brien and market-sensitive information in the one sentence. Now where have I heard that before? Hint…google Moriarty Tribunal. That alone makes the judgement error displayed by Minister Naughten, galling.
“I gave a personal opinion on what I thought was likely to happen” cried the Minister. Let’s put aside for a second the absolute ridiculousness of the premise that a Minister while in office on a public matter under his remit can give a personal opinion. Instead let’s draw the outline of what actually occurred.
We have a proposed media merger involving the biggest newspaper group in the country trying to get bigger. We have a newspaper group (INM) whose major shareholder has, shall we say, ‘history’ with his close relationships to Communications Ministers.
We have a Minister with decision-making powers on that merger. We have a PR exec with the closest of ties to Mr O’Brien’s long-term associate Leslie Buckley. That PR exec is working for a firm acting (explicitly) on behalf of INM.
The head of that firm Nigel Heneghan not only has acted as adviser to Leslie Buckley among other roles but is also, significantly, a member of the Compliance Committee of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland-another body that will have a role to play in deciding on the proposed merger.
The connections are obvious. The story tells itself. Apparently it didn’t tell itself to the Minister though because he thought it was grand to tell the PR executive that the merger would be referred on to the BAI.
But that’s strange see, because that morning when Twitter informed me of the story and detailed the date of the Minister’s ‘chat’ with the PR Exec as November 2016, a bell rang in my head.
That bell was a series of PQs myself and a colleague had submitted on behalf of Catherine Murphy TD back in November and December 2016.
It took only a bit of searching to discover that despite the Minister telling Heneghan PR in November 2016 that he would be referring the matter to the BAI, on the floor of the Dáil on December 6 – almost a month later – he was telling us that he had not made any decision and would spend another few weeks undertaking a full process before making that decision.
A decision he now says was never going to be any other way. Seems that the statutory process was a box-ticking exercise at best.
Here’s a thing, maybe he just needs a phone box installed in his Dáil office for super-speedy Ministerial cape transformations when he’s deciding how to answer parliamentarians versus PR execs.
Because, you see, the reason the Minister couldn’t give the Dáil and elected parliamentarians the same information he gave a private PR exec almost a month previously is because he WAS wearing his superhero Ministerial cape.
And the reason that a PR exec acting for INM was telling the Chairman of INM (who in turn was telling Denis O’Brien according to e-mails in the ODCE’s affidavit) that the Minister *would* be referring the matter to the BAI is because, you see, the exec couldn’t see that on the other end of the phone the Minister was apparently NOT wearing his super-hero Ministerial cape and was only a private citizen, imparting sensitive information on a matter that, *if* he had been wearing his cape would, as the ODCE contends, potentially constitute insider information and market manipulation.
But ‘tis grand, cos he wasn’t wearing the cape, see?
Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.
Top pic: Rollingnews